Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson have both been declared fully fit and ready to take on Scotland in Saturday’s crucial Six Nations clash in Dublin, writes Brendan O’Brien.
The Leinster tighthead suffered a minor hamstring injury in the opening minutes of Ireland’s game against Italy last month, but it was serious enough to force him out of the subsequent clash with Wales.
Henderson also damaged a hamstring, in his case in the opening half against the Welsh, but both have trained fully on Monday and Tuesday and assistant coach Simon Easterby was able to report a full bill of health on Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re having to keep players on a tight leash because guys who didn’t get the opportunity to play against Wales are desperate to come back in,” said Easterby. “The guys who did play have ownership of that shirt. It’s a great place to be.”
A British and Irish Lion, and a man rated by many as the best tighthead prop in world rugby, Furlong’s return to contention is a massive plus for Joe Schmidt as he plans for the fourth leg of a potential Grand Slam tilt.
“I’d like to say I’m moving well, but I never move well,” he joked this afternoon. “I’m moving as well as I can.”
There’s no good time to pick up an injury but midway through a Six Nations championship that is angling towards a possible championship triumph, at the least, must rank right up there with the worst of them.
Furlong, though, took a realistic view of his layoff.
“It’s kind of out of your hands really. When you are building up to that Wales game you know that you have to hit a lot of targets in that time. You are trying to get your injury right and then you are trying to prep for a Test match.
“Then when you realise you are not going to make it you can concentrate on getting fully right. When I didn’t make that you were really confident that you were going to be back ahead of Scotland, so it’s been pretty straight sailing bar a bit of snow that hampered a bit of training.”
The Wexford man was effusive when asked about the input of Leinster colleague Andrew Porter who deputised for him against the Italians and the Welsh but, that aside, there is no doubt but that Furlong’s return this weekend represents a plus for the Irish side.
“It’s great to have a player of his calibre back,” said Conor Murray. “He’ll be itching to get back given the performances of Andrew Porter. He’s been with us a while and he’s a leader in this squad too. You can see how hungry he is out on the training pitch. Everyone is hungry to play this week.”
Murray put any lingering concerns over his own well-being to rest while he was at it. The Munster nine went down in some pain and holding his knee against Wales before playing on, but he has trained fully this week and described the incident in question as “a bit of a fright” more than anything else.
Jonathan Sexton was also passed fit. The out-half had been nursing a lower back issue during the two-week gap between the visits of Wales and Scotland.